In this episode, Yiannis Nikolopoulos joins us to discuss how he became an entrepreneur. He is the Co-founder of Clio Muse Tours, an Athens-based company that offers self-guided audio tours and virtual tours for museums across Europe. Yiannis describes how curiosity and humility enabled him and his partners to find the right product-market fit before going all in. And they pulled it off in the midst of the worst recession in modern Greek history.
Listen to the podcast here:
How to Recognize Opportunities That Others Overlook With Yiannis Nikolopoulos
I’m speaking with Yiannis Nikolopoulos. He’s the Cofounder of Clio Muse Tours, an Athens-based company that offers self-guided audio tours and virtual tours for museums across Europe. We often think of entrepreneurs as supremely confident risk-takers who are willing to go all-in. As you will see, this is not always the best approach. In this episode, Yiannis describes how curiosity and humility enabled him and his partners to find the right product-market fit before going all-in, and they pulled it off in the midst of the worst recession in modern Greek history. There’s so much to be learned from this story. Without any further ado, I hope you enjoy my conversation with Yiannis Nikolopoulos.
Yiannis, thank you for joining the podcast. I’m delighted to have this conversation with you. It’s been a long time. We met in Athens in 2014 and we’ve been following each other on social media ever since then. I’m excited to learn more about your story. I know a little bit about your story. Let’s start at the beginning, Yiannis. Can you talk to me a little bit about how it is you came to be an entrepreneur? Did somebody push you in the pool? Did you wade into the pool? Did you fall backward into the pool? Do you have an entrepreneurial parent? How did it all unfold for you?
First of all, thanks for having me. It’s interesting, I didn’t even know that you were doing this as well. I see it as an opportunity for me to learn stuff from you because you have some nice questions that helped me think more about some stuff. To answer your question, my grandpa was an entrepreneur. He was a poor man. He opened his shop and he was selling shirts. When he was looking for somebody to take over his business, none of us wanted to do that. It never occurred to me that I would be an entrepreneur myself later in life.
However, what I always knew is that I loved building stuff. My grandpa was asking, “Can I buy you a store? Can I buy you an office? What are you going to do in your life?” I said, “Grandpa, don’t buy me a store. I don’t know what I’m going to do.” Both my parents are in education. My mother and my dad are teachers in Finance in college. My sister is a teacher in primary school. All of my family was working in the public sector. All I knew was that I loved to understand how things work. I would break stuff to see how things work and then build them back. I knew that I love building stuff.
For clarification, I want to ask a question about your grandfather. He started out poor but it sounds like he made money. As an entrepreneur, he became wealthier. He was offering to buy you a store. Do I hear that right?
Yes. He made quite a lot of money. He never became a millionaire or a billionaire or something but he was quite wealthy. He helped his kids, my mom and my uncles. My uncles started their own business. He made money using a traditional business model and he wasn’t looking for building a corporation or something. He had his shop and he was happy with it. He was offering a job for him and his wife. He made some nice money that helped.
Another idea that I wanted to discuss with you before we get on is I remember talking to folks when I was in Athens when I met you that there’s a strong attraction to government jobs in Greece. There’s a high paying salary and an assurance of stability. Do you think that’s a factor why no one wanted to take over granddad’s shop?
It would be the reason for many people. Our grandparents have been pushing generations to work for the public sector mainly because of stability. Let’s keep in mind that Greece went through worse. We had some nice years back then. The public sector was always the most stable sector to work for. Even if you were not good enough, you will still get paid as much as somebody a lot better than you would get. It’s not that much money but stability was the factor that everybody has been pushing generations to work for the public sector.
There are still some people my age who are still looking for jobs in the public sector and stability, which makes me sad. I’m feeling that you can do your stuff, especially when you’re that young. That’s not the case anymore with older generations. Entrepreneurship is starting to look more attractive than it used to but still, there are people who have been brought up believing that the public sector is the choice to go.
I didn’t mean to interrupt the story but I wanted the readers to have some of that social-political landscape context.
People used to think that a good job would be a lawyer, a doctor or the public sector. At first, it would give prestige to somebody.
That’s also interesting to me. The first one is to give prestige and the third one gives stability but neither one of those leads to fulfillment and that’s the real dilemma. Neither one of those leads to the sense of meaning and purpose that we’re seeking. That’s where entrepreneurs stumbled into this perfect storm. We’re being challenged, growing and learning. We’re always striving to get to something greater. Our brains developed differently because of that. Your mom and dad are in the education space. They’re both educators and your sister is also an educator. You were a tinkerer. You like to break things. You like to take it apart and put it back together to understand how things work.
I grew up ruining and building stuff with leftovers. At some point, when I was in college as an electrical and computer engineer, I found a friend and he was a mechanical engineer. Back then, in Greece, there was a talk about solar parks and the electricity that we can produce. We thought that we could create a business out of it. What we did was that we launched three companies and we built three solar parks that have been paying us some money ever since. Although my colleague continued doing this, I didn’t.
He still has a company that builds, preserves and exploits solar parks but as I grew older, it took so much time and so much bureaucracy to build a solar park. I want faster things. I love doing things the lean way. However, two years after creating these three companies, my sister had a car accident. She was seriously injured. She had to stay in hospital for a year. She was a vegetable for most of it. For the next two and a half years, I had to take care of her. My parents were working. I had to quit college and be there.
Imagine that you have a person that cannot even turn sides in the bed. For two and a half years, I didn’t sleep much and I slept with intervals. Every three hours, I would wake up and take care of something or make sure that she’s alive in the first year. Imagine that you have a person that cannot understand everything. She couldn’t move a muscle apart from her eyes. It was difficult but then a lot happened in 2009.
In 2011, things were getting a bit better. Towards the end of 2011, I decided to do something. I found two friends from college and I started building software apps. I built an app for Microsoft, the Windows phones, and then some from Android and iOS. This is how I got my first $5 for a piece of software that I made. It’s funny because I looked for it and I found the first check that I received, but I forgot to bring it with me. I can scan it and send it to you. It would be nice. I found this check which I never took to the bank because I wanted to keep it as a reminder of me making my first money out of a piece of software.
Let me dig in there for a second, Yiannis. I hear this a lot. I adopted a foster child some years ago and I taught him how to start his own business. He was a sixteen-year-old kid and he said the same thing. His first check was $75 or something. He was marveling at the idea that, “This is money I received for something I created is different than a paycheck.”
I had some money from the solar parks coming in. I had worked as a customer care agent for the national telecommunications company in Greece. From day one in college, I would work and I would get paid for that but it felt completely different with the $5 I took for an app I made.
Isn’t that something? I don’t understand the psychology around that but there’s something powerful underneath it. I keep hearing that story. That first $1, $50, $100 or whatever it was represents self-efficacy or agency. It represents like, “I can build something.” There’s a great quote from Steve Jobs when he was younger and he said something to this effect, “We come into this world and we’re taught the world is the way it is. Your job is to figure out how to be in that world. Try to save a little bit of money and a little bit of fun but don’t break into the walls. Stay away from the walls.” He said that’s a recipe for a very limited life. He said that life gets interesting once you understand one simple fact and that is the people who made those walls are no smarter than you. You can poke through those walls. You can bend them and build something that other people find useful. As he said, “Once you understand that, you’ll never be the same,” and that’s what that $5 represents.
Now that I think about it, I got my first salary in 2004. I was excited. I could go on vacations without asking for anything from my parents. It was nice money but those $5, they felt different because I did it all myself. I designed, built, tested and published. I loved that. It was something completely mine that I put out to the world to see and buy. It felt different.
People think entrepreneurs are people who are trying to make money. It’s wrong. The definition of entrepreneurship is someone who takes a risk in exchange for a profit. That’s misguided. That’s a misunderstanding. There are some people who want to get rich and they don’t care. I acknowledge that. For the average entrepreneur, it’s not about making money. You’ve got to make money but the point that I want to make is that the currency is a representation of usefulness. We’re being rewarded with a sense of joy because another human is saying, “I find useful what you’ve built.”
You’re saying my thoughts.
We have no way to know this but even the thing you did at college with the solar parks, you were part of something that got built and sustain. It wasn’t your thing but you were part of it. That’s an important efficacy moment. I hear that a lot. I interviewed an entrepreneur and he said that in college, he was part of AIESEC which is a student network group. He was asked to take over the AIESEC chapter. There are no members, no money, no anything, and he built it up into something. He pointed to that as the first time he saw it, he could make something from nothing. He could build something that the world would use. Every young person should have some experience like that.
The first year, I didn’t believe that the park was there. It belonged to me and a friend. We’ve seen all the equipment and we’ve started in college, the panels and everything. It was like a dream come true that I had three solar parks. It was nice. It didn’t give me the enthusiasm I felt when I built something completely the way I want. With solar parks, you have to follow regulations. It’s not that flexible. You cannot change it and build it the way you like it. You need to follow some rules. You don’t imagine something. You’re using stuff.
It’s like I open a pizza shop. There’s nothing imaginative about it. It’s also remarkable. I wanted to ask you, was that part of an organized startup thing in college? Was that something you and your friend did entirely on your own?
It’s entirely on our own. It made me feel that I was able enough to build other stuff as well. It made me feel nice and good about myself because I was young and in the end, we made it. It gave me this sense of self-confidence that you can do it.
Now you’ve got the first $5 and you built an app and you’re still not in college. You’ve dropped out of college to take care of your sister. She’s starting to improve so you have some discretionary time to start developing the app.
When I made those $5, I thought, “Can I live out of that? Can I make this into a living?” I then started reading some books.
You weren’t even building the app thinking you’re going to get rich. You were just tinkering around. When you started it, you didn’t think, “This could be a business.”
I was doing something productive in my time trying to get out of my misery and sadness. I’m trying to keep my mind busy enough. I found the idea of an economy platform interesting and how you can create something that can scale up. I found those two friends and we discussed building a software company. I didn’t agree with them on everything they said. I wasn’t part of the company that was created afterward. I knew that this is what I wanted to do and it was best if I found other people to do it with. You can go faster alone but if you’re going to go further down the road, you need some others as well, especially if those others are not your friends and if they are different from you. Before I knew it, I went to a startup seminar on young entrepreneurship. It was called Athens Startup Weekend. I met Andreas and Daphne there, my cofounders in Clio Muse.
Did you go to this startup thing without an idea in mind? Did you go there to see what it’s all about?
I went there to see how you can build a company the startup way and not the corporate way. I’ve seen that. I went to see how business models can work, how you can build something scalable. I went there to learn what time to market is, what the go-to-market strategy is, and things like that. I’ve been reading online and I wanted to try them out. I couldn’t do that with solar parks. I went there to see the methodology and learn. I thought that perhaps at some time later in life, I may need to implement those methodologies somewhere so I went there to learn how to build stuff.
It’s coming clear to me why the solar park wasn’t getting it for you. You’re not building anything new. You’re exploiting an opportunity that’s formulaic and there’s no invention.
You build it but you don’t really build it. It’s there. You just connect the dots.
It’s like IKEA furniture.
It’s like a recipe. You follow a recipe. You follow the manual and instructions.
It’s the IKEA of entrepreneurship, “Here are the instructions. Here’s an Allen wrench.” You guys meet at this startup event. What’s the big idea? What happens next?
I wouldn’t call it an idea because there was no idea of what we’re going to do. Andreas was a conservator of antiquities and works of art from Preveza away from Athens. I was coming to Athens from Patras. We were all three different strangers from other cities. That night, Andreas shared a concern he had. After volunteering for some museums, he’d seen back then that there wasn’t a network that would connect cultural heritage.
Every museum had its own database with digitized copies of all exhibits but you couldn’t find it online. Everything was segmented. Everybody was using a different system, a different database, and that wasn’t accessible at all. He shared this concern, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a tool that connects the global cultural heritage?” That’s what he said. For some reason, Daphne, I and three other people went to Andreas and said, “We would like to be part of this problem-solving.”
The other guys that shared ideas or concerns that night had a concrete idea, “We will do this. We will build that. The world needs this. This is the problem and that’s the solution I’m thinking of.” To be honest with you, I didn’t feel that there was enough room for me in those things. Andreas, the way he said what he shared, I felt like, “We’re going to build stuff.” That was the one reason I joined Andreas.
The other was that coming from a family of educators, I believed that the only way to learn more stuff is you grow and you leave school, college or whatever everybody has an opportunity at. Museums, cultures and art are things that will keep impressing us. Perhaps this way, they leave in our head some ideas or ideals even. I saw culture and art as a way for people to continuously learn from the past or from contemporary artists.
When I was in college, I had fellows that were building stuff for the sake of technology. It was often that in college, we would be taught to do stuff for the sake of technology and to advance technology, but why if not to serve humans? Why build stuff when you’re not sure how it will be used and what we have to gain out of it? Back in college, I used to tell my colleagues, “Let’s think before building something. What’s the use?” With Andreas, I found this calling as well. I had the chance to build something that wasn’t a predefined idea. At the same time, I had the chance to figure out what would people need before we start building, and I like that.
That’s a phenomenal point that I’d like to dive into a little bit. The business model canvas is flawed in that way because it assumes that you already have arrived at an idea. I’ve reworked the business model canvas as an opportunity discovery canvas. There was an advantage that you all came together. You were curious about doing something but there was no preconceived idea. It’s a group of people saying to themselves, “What problems can we solve in the world with our combined interest and abilities?” It’s dangerous that too often we land on the idea. I’ve studied the cognitive aspects of this. It’s fixation. We tend to cling to our first idea. It’s a cognitive bias. Almost instantly, we start denying evidence that disputes our idea. In some ways, you’re at an advantage. You’re starting at the beginning.
Back then, we thought it was a disadvantage though because everybody else in that seminar had an idea and we felt left behind.
That’s another cognitive bias and it’s called relative deprivation theory.
I keep taking notes of stuff you say because I want to look at it further.
Frans de Waal has TED Talk about relative deprivation theory. He shows monkeys being fed different foods and how the monkey starts retaliating because he’s not getting the same food the other monkey is getting. He was originally happy with the food he was getting until he saw the monkey next to him getting something better. He then rejected the food that he was perfectly content with. If you think about this, the ways in which we torture ourselves by comparing ourselves to each other is amazing. That’s what you’re speaking to. You didn’t know it but you were at an advantage.
It turned out that we were at an advantage. All that feeling of being left behind made us try harder. It led us to ongoing marketing research. We didn’t have an idea. We only had a problem. We went out asking museums travelers and museum visitors one question. If there was an ideal tool for that to connect the global heritage, what would it be like? We got some nice answers. This is how it went on. The fact that we had to search for answers at that time became part of our DNA as a team. It’s to always look for answers elsewhere.
One thing is that we didn’t have a predefined idea. We only had a challenge on our minds. The second is none of the three of us that continued, Andreas, Daphne and I, wasn’t stubborn enough with their ideas. We didn’t have a strong ego that “I am right. I know better.” We are stubborn enough to try and create a business in Greece. We are stubborn enough to find clients and sell, but we were not stubborn about knowing what’s right and what’s not.
You’re not stubborn in trying to understand what other people need. That’s a super interesting point. It’s almost like you’re consciously aware of when to turn the stubborn switch on and off. It’s useful in some areas but it’s detrimental in others. What you’re telling me that is interesting is, what’s the start of a startup? It’s a question, not an answer. Some people maybe have the solution and they’ve already got enough evidence. Maybe they’ve already done their discovery process. Clayton Christensen described this as problem-finding. I don’t see many people in the entrepreneurship space talking about this.
Problem-finding is probably 90% of the battle. You understand the problem, the barriers, and the perspective of the people whose problem you’re trying to solve. Clayton Christensen wrote about this in his book called Competing Against Luck. It’s about trying to understand not only the functional dimension of human needs but the social and emotional dimensions. That’s where the secret is. If it was all about the functional dimensions, we would all be driving Toyota Corollas. There would be no other car in the world.
What I realized, at some point in my life, was that I had it in me trying to understand things and how things work. Since I was a kid, I would break stuff to see how they work. I remember a toy boat that I took. I never had the chance to play with it at sea because I broke it over to see what it was made from. I couldn’t put it back. I couldn’t put it out in the water. I never played with that boat and it pissed me a lot. My sister couldn’t speak. She couldn’t say a word. For the first three years, we couldn’t communicate. I had to understand what she needs.
Being an adult whose brain works perfectly and she understood everything. She needed stuff. She didn’t have mental issues. She was the same person. I had to try so hard to understand what’s she wanted and that became part of how I see people. I realized that later in life when I started selling to customers or trying to see what they need, I found myself thinking the way I thought when she wasn’t able to speak. I realized that I had developed empathy for people. I applied this to customers, not the price that they are willing to pay but what they need. When you find what your customers need, when you understand how you can deliver value to them, how you can solve their problems, how you can solve their pains, then they are willing to pay.
That’s the formula. It’s so simple. I think of this as an altruistic paradox. People are blind to opportunities for one simple reason and that is because they’re only focused on their own needs. This is what I was trying to say in my first book. There’s a simple secret that’s hanging right out there in front of us. It’s hiding in plain sight. Stop thinking about what you need for a minute and look around you. Open the lens more broadly. I love what you said about the time you spent attempting to understand your sister when she was in this comatose, in a vegetable state, her brain was functioning but she couldn’t do anything but open and close her eyes, that’s pretty profound. That’s an interesting insight.
I had to ask the right questions because the only thing she could do was say yes or no with her eyes. For everything, I had to set the right question and get the answer because the answer could only be yes or no. I developed a methodology to ask and seek answers to what she needed, an adult person with a 100% working brain but unable to move a muscle. You have to ask the right questions.
That’s unbelievable. I interviewed a blind guy some years ago that started a television company so that blind people could watch television by listening. There would be a narrator that would explain what’s happening and then they could use the rest of the audio to figure out what’s going on. He said to me that if he had the choice to have his eyesight restored, he wouldn’t want it. He said that losing his eyesight taught him how to see. You’re saying something similar. Something positive came from this tragedy.
If you go to the Guggenheim Museum or the MoMA Museum, there are some nice workshops for blind people where you can listen to specialists describing artifacts for blind people. We’re lucky enough that some of these guys sometimes come to Greece to some of the museums that we work with. There was this workshop in Greece that I took part in with one of these professionals and they asked us to observe an exhibit, and we did. They asked us to close our eyes and we did. They started describing the artifact for blind people, and then the people that can see realized that we were blind.
The way that they described that exhibit, I could visualize it in my head and it was better than seeing it. It’s like meditating because they guide you to see the thing that you can see, the space, size and colors. If you go to those museums and take part in the works for blind people, you’ll realize that you can see better with your ears than with your eyes.
What we’re talking about here is so powerful in understanding the entrepreneurial mindset. You have to hone in on what other humans need and people don’t know what they need. We are all strangers to ourselves. You have to be this intense observer. You have to learn how to meditate, understand and read between the lines. It’s so powerful and yet, rarely as students or adults do we get the opportunity to do that. This is calling back to my Steve Jobs thing. We’re educated in a way that tells us, “Here’s how the world is. Figure out how to fit into it as it is.” That’s a deeply held cultural belief. There’s no reason to learn to pay attention at that level. Furthermore, I also found in my research that from a cognitive perspective, it’s impossible to think deeply about something you’re not interested in.
It makes sense.
It’s so interesting to me because I look at entrepreneurship as a behavioral phenomenon. I don’t associate it with business. I look at it as organisms trying to self-actualize in their environment. That’s all it is. If you try to think of it as a business discipline, you’re going to get stuck right away because you think it’s all about profit, linearity, measurement, planning, and it’s not.
It’s about building and creating.
It’s exploring and discovery. That’s why your story is so powerfully articulate. It’s so fascinating to me. You guys convene around this question, “What if we took this database from museums all around the world and made it into a centralized thing? What would that look like?” I want to make sure the readers get this. That’s the important point here. Instead of starting by guessing what that might look like and then trying to build it, you started by going out and speaking to people in museums.
We tried to think about what does good looks like. There were three of us and everybody had their own ideas, but how do you know which one is the best? How do you know that if you didn’t have a 4th, 5th, 6th, or 10th cofounder, maybe their ideas are going to be better than yours? What if we make cofounders and everybody was going to use it? More brainpower. You cannot have ten cofounders, but you can go out and ask people what they want so they’re going to buy.
I see what you’re saying. The larger the sample size, the likely you’re going to hit the nail on the head. Talk to me about this early discovery. Who were you speaking with and what were you learning?
We were speaking with museum directors or marketing departments from museums, museum curators, and then we would speak with people who go to museums. It could be foreigners or Greek locals. We would stand outside of museums with questionnaires instead of asking the same questions every single time. We ask different questions for locals, foreigners and the museum staff. We ask them whether they use their phone and how do they look for information? How do they imagine a perfect tool for taking a tour? For the museums, we used to ask them how they curate or what the tools they use. How do they know what visitors want to see? What would be the ideal tool they would have if there was an ideal tool? If they could build the tool, how would they do it?
You’re not putting ideas in their head. You’re just being deliberate about that.
We didn’t ask them to rate ideas or to choose between stuff. The question was whether they use their phone while in a museum for travel or seminar, and how the ideal tool would look like. The questions were opened. We were looking for ideas. We were a team feeling left behind so we were looking out there for the best ideas. Everybody else in that seminar was further down the road as we saw it and we were not. We were trying to find the best ideas as fast as we can.
Walk me through what this looks like. Do you phone the director of a museum up and say, “My name is Yiannis. I’m trying to build this app. Can I come and speak to you today?” That’s terrifying for a lot of people.
It was terrifying. We sat down and we took some notes. We designed the questions. For museums abroad, we call them or we send cold emails or we use some networks from Facebook to ask or to share a questionnaire online. Mostly what we did, and that’s what taught us the most, was going out there and talking in person with somebody. We didn’t care who it was. It could be the curator, the marketing department or the museum director. We went out there with our open questions and we were trying to understand their problems and their pains. We said that we are doing research for the ideal tool for museums. We didn’t say that we are building something because we were not building something. We didn’t say that we are selling something because we were not selling something. We’re just doing a survey. We’re doing research. “We’re looking for the ideal tool for museums. What does it look like for you, from your experience?”
That’s a clever trick. If you talk about like, “I’m doing a research project,” then people want to help. If they get the feeling you’re trying to sell them something, “I don’t have time for you.”
We didn’t want them to feel like customers because we didn’t even know if they would be our customers. We didn’t know who would pay, the stakeholders, the museums or the travelers. We’re just trying to understand what they need, what would make their life easier and what would give value.
There’s another important part of your story that I want to draw out here. I do teacher training programs all over the world where we teach teachers about entrepreneurship and how to cultivate entrepreneurial thinking in their students. We have them do these exercises like rally around a problem they want to solve and get out of the building and talk to people. Number one for a lot of people, that is the barrier right there. That’s where the rubber meets the road. We can sit around and talk about ideas until the cows come home.
How many people tell themselves, “I’d love to have my own business but I don’t have enough time. I don’t have enough money. I’m not smart enough. I don’t have the right degree.” Getting out and having those first customer conversations is an enormous barrier for people. Once that barrier is overcome, then you see, “I got to understand. I know how this works.” What I noticed in teachers is they’ll try to escape the discomfort of the face-to-face interaction and they’ll try to do it all on Facebook. I’m forever saying, do that at your peril because you’re going to miss the important aspects of this, which occur in the face-to-face interaction. Can you talk a little bit about that?
The funny thing is that my sales team doesn’t want me to do sales because every time I meet a client, I try to understand what the client needs unless I have somebody with me and they’re making signals for me to stop or somebody stops me when I do sales. When you do that when you’re a startup, it’s nice, but when the products are there, you have to give your customers specific options and they choose from them.
This is where the sales funnel is. You have the products, price, features, and you tell to the customers, “Gary, I have A, B and C, but the B is the best for you. The B has those features and it cost that much. It’s perfect for you.” My sales team doesn’t want me to go with them to sales meetings because I am so fascinated when clients speak. I forget everything about a successful sales meeting and I get into the discovery mode.
I try to see what they want and as a founder I know I have those products and I can sell them but, “What else do they need? What else I can build for them?” To me, it’s so fascinating listening to the clients, emptying your mind from your ideas, taste and features, and listening to what they need. It’s so fascinating that every time I get carried away, I try to understand a little bit more of my customers.
That is fascinating to me on many different levels. It’s mindset because the sales team is like, “We have offering A, B or C. That’s it.”
This is what we want to sell. We don’t want to sell something that we haven’t or we don’t want to build something that is not there. We want to have a successful sales meeting. We want to leave with a contract from that successful sales meeting.
By the way, as a confessionary moment, I have the same problem with my team. I’m always coming up with ideas and asking questions and they’re in the mode like, “We’ve got to be productive. We’ve got to move.” The truth is you need both. If guys like you and I ran the whole show, we’d never get anything done because we’re always trying to build it a little bit better, faster and more interesting.
The nature of an organization is then to push out the guy that starts asking all these questions. The nature of the organization is to replicate the useful thing in order for the organization to grow. There’s a discovery phase and you discover the useful thing. You build a team around replicating the useful thing in order for the company to grow, but the danger is nothing fails like success.
You get this tunnel vision and you start barreling down this path of selling what you’ve already got and you stop listening. You could teach a seminar on that. Every organization needs the Yiannis voice to be asking these questions because what you’re speaking to is something I would call dynamic stability. You and I were chatting about the expectation of stability and how that gets us into trouble.
I heard Nassim Taleb say this in a talk. He said, “The market is smarter than your boss.” That’s a profound statement. As employees of a company, we have this assumption of linearity, stability and centralized control. As entrepreneurs, we behave like hunter-gatherers. We’re always adapting and paying attention to the shifting flora and fauna, the shifting seasons, rain patterns, droughts, behaviors of the plants and animals because we know they’re always changing. That’s an important message even for larger established companies.
Especially for them because they have all the more reason to feel like they know. When you’re small and you’re a startup, perhaps you feel that you don’t know enough. When you’re an established organization or company, then you feel like, “I know my customers. They keep buying my products. I’m doing it right,” but no.
Yiannis, you and I should design a freshman seminar.
It sounds fun.
This is a totally different way of thinking. A lot of what my work is about is to help educators understand, “The world is no longer stable.” The expectation of stability and linearity is gone, but we’re still educating people based on these deeply held assumptions of stability, linearity and so forth. What you’re describing is how to adapt and thrive in volatility, uncertainty, ambiguity and chaos.
In Greece of chaos. In Greece of recession.
I never even thought of that. You started this company in the middle of this devastation.
Investors say that if you make it in Greece, you can do it abroad as well because people and companies take fewer risks. They don’t tend to trust startups. They think, “Perhaps they’re going to fail.” They don’t trust small organizations and they tell us, “If you make it here, you can make it elsewhere and it’s going to be easier.”
It reminds me of Taleb’s book, Antifragile. It’s an interesting read. That’s the premise. Mechanical systems wear down with usage and stress, but organic systems get stronger with stress. There are so many fascinating things here. I keep interrupting the story, but this is such a great conversation. You’re talking about the discovery process.
We’re also talking about the meetings. At first, it was so intimidating going to a large organization and say, “We are Andreas, Yiannis and Daphne, and we are doing research.” It’s intimidating to go stand up in front of somebody important, somebody who runs a company or organization, and ask your questions. Why should they listen to you? It’s so super nice to hear from the people that have the answers, and the people that have the problem that you’re trying to solve. With the experience they have, they can tell you in five minutes what it may take ages for you to discover, after burning a lot of money, after building many demos and apps. They don’t realize the knowledge and the expertise that they can give you like this.
You have magic moments. You asked some open questions and it feels like you can build ten startups around the things that they told you. You know that these things are validated and there’s a market for those things that they tell you because you didn’t imagine them. You didn’t hear them somewhere or read it on the web. You heard it from the person who has the problem who says, “This is my problem. I wish I could solve it. I wish I had the tool for that.” It’s so nice. They give you the recipes to create startups. It’s worth going out there and asking about their problems.
Do you have a nightmare story? You’re a young guy. If you can’t find a light switch in the dark, you don’t know what you’re doing. Your worst nightmare might be somebody who’s going to say, “Get the hell out of my office.” They’re going to yell at you or humiliate you. Did you have anything that ever came close to that like an interview or a discovery that went bad?
The worst moment was when after a nice meeting with a museum, a friend of the director came into the office. They were close friends so they didn’t feel like knocking on the door and interrupting. They entered the office and they heard the last part of that conversation. When the conversation was over, she started attacking us. That lady was a tour guide and she felt like we were going to take her work, her tourists and travelers, and substitute her.
We tried to explain, “What we’re building here is a tool for you as well to understand the people that you are showing around. We’re giving you an extra layer because they can keep your tour afterwards like a souvenir. That souvenir can work for you because it can bring you sales from friends of their friends who saw that online.” She didn’t get it but she was old enough anyways.
Thankfully, the client wasn’t affected by her words. It was funny because you have a nice meeting, and then that person comes in, they intrude on that conversation and listen at the end of the conversation, then they start attacking you. It was funny. Even that attack helped us communicate with the federation of tour guides and converting them into what we call authors, people that create the tours in our platform so that we don’t create all of the tours ourselves. This is how our startup scaled up.
That’s unbelievable. You just keep going. What you’re saying is this lady comes into the meeting near the end and she starts attacking the idea because she feels threatened. It turns out to be a phenomenal learning experience that enabled you to adapt a product in a way that enables you to scale.
The adaptive business model as well.
What you’re saying is it’s not always the hell yes from potential customers in a discovery. It’s from the objections that some of your great insights come.
Also, all the failures like the competitions that you may go and fail. You get the feedback, “What can I do differently now so that next time I’m the winner?” I remember another moment in the startup competition when everything was going so well until a judge asked a question, “How long does it take to create a tour?” We said, “Three months.” All hell broke loose. He says, “Three months? You cannot scale up if a product needs three months to be delivered.” We were considered a very strong candidate for that competition and we lost because our time to market was weak.
Those two incidents happened 2 or 3 months in between. We then said, “We have to do something about it because we got the rest of it, but we have to address this problem as well. What if we combine the time to market with people that we can partner up with the external authors?” This is how you can scale up. This is how you have more tours with fewer personnel costs. You have partners as well. They have their own distributions but let’s not get into details. That’s another story. We used those two incidents to change and adapt, and we discovered another opportunity.
There are a couple of things there that I’ve heard always talked about. One is called rejection therapy. I think you understand intuitively what I mean by that but you get stronger. Once you realize somebody could tell you no or that’s a bad idea or they could expose some flaw in your thinking. For a lot of us, that feels like a personal attack. From a cognitive perspective, if you’re already bought into your idea, then an attack will be received at the amygdala. It’ll be perceived as a personal affront so you’ll reject it rather than going, “Wow.”
How much better would the world be if someone calls us an asshole and we walk away thinking, “What part of that is true?” There’s another broader thing I want to bring up. Your story is so powerful here. I’m trying to write this in my book, how to explain this. In social psychology, there’s this concept called a tension system. We all exist within a tension system. There are these invisible forces that are causing us to move forward and constraining us. Those forces could be psychological, situational or whatever, but they’re not clear and not obvious.
What we know from social psychology is that if you understand the tension system, you can find the right lever. You pull that lever and get a huge result because you’re releasing the tension. If you don’t understand the tension system, you could spend lots of money and time trying to bring about change, and you won’t get the results or you’ll be disappointed in the results.
What your story is articulating is you and your teammates have at least an intuitive understanding of a tension system. Humans have needs and they can’t quite articulate what those needs are, but they’re striving to do something. I’ll tell you a brief story because it’s for entrepreneurs. I adopted a foster kid and I helped him start a business. He wanted to join the military in the worst way. That was his dream. He left high school, signed up for the Marine Corps, and wound up serving in the Iraq war.
At the time in the US, people had these yellow bumper stickers that said, “I support the troops.” I remember asking myself, “What does that mean? Are you feeling guilty so you put a $3 bumper sticker on your car? Does this represent some bigger need?” When Jason would call me when he returned to the base every two weeks or so, I asked him one day, “Give me the names of all the boys in your platoon.” They’re at the same military address in Baghdad or something.
I went to the post office and I got these boxes that are shipped anywhere in the world for $10, maybe the size of the small shoe box and they’re flat. I made stickers and printed up the list of 24 names. I put one sticker on each box and put them in my car. I started to hand them out to anyone that had a sticker. I see them at a gas station and I talked to friends. In a matter of a few weeks, it took off like wildfire. People were calling me, asking me for the list, and emailing me. Three months later, Jason called me from Iraq and said, “Our commanding officer is asking you to stop because we’re overwhelmed with these boxes.” People are sending these gift boxes full of things to the same 24 kids.
I wasn’t trying to make money but that’s the tension system. There’s a need and people can’t articulate the need. They’re trying to express it with a bumper sticker but they’re expressing something deeper. There’s a deeper social and emotional aspect of their needs. What I was doing is providing them with a path. I gave them an easy path, I released the tension. That’s what entrepreneurs are doing. That’s what your story so beautifully articulates. Kurt Lewin is the guy in the 1930s that championed this idea. Maybe I’m going a little bit too deep into the weeds there.
No, I totally understand.
People need to hear that we’re trying to tease out unarticulated needs. That’s different from a large corporation where you already know what the need is. You know how many people are out there. You’re going to invest a lot of money and acquire something or whatever. That’s different from entrepreneurship where you’re trying to tease out the unarticulated needs and you need to understand. The way you went about it is so powerful. Let’s pick back up where you said you’re interviewing museum guests, museum directors, curators, and so forth. Now the idea is starting to come together. You’re going to a business plan competition. Are you doing that to raise money? Are you doing it to validate the idea? Why are you doing that?
We were desperate to see if we had gotten it right. We went to a startup competition and one of them was for the content. One competition we went was run by Europeana which is an EU organization for culture. We were trying to understand if the content methodology that we had designed together with the pilot museum customers was right, if the content methodology that we use develop our tools because we do it differently than everybody else. We went to that competition to validate our content methodology.
We then went to Booking.com’s competition. We wanted to see if our business model was right and our distribution network as well. Again, we got that right. The first-ever competition we went to, which was where I met you, was in Athens. We went there to see if the whole idea made sense. The first competition we went to was about our idea as a whole, the second was on content, and the third was on our distribution network and our business model. Obviously, we’ve been to some other competition as well to get publicity or to get some money and give to 1 or 2 extra developers or some guys that could do content for museums. Most of the time we’ve been choosing the competition wisely, looking for different parts of the whole business to validate.
You’re being strategic about it.
You said a nice story about Jason and the military. In Greece, Army service is mandatory. You have to go there for nine months. I went, obviously, and we were running Clio Muse in between those times. I would use my phone or fax and I would get in contact with Andreas or Daphne. One thing I learned from the military and it helped us is to get feedback without making it personal. It’s a thing that a lieutenant told me in the Army. He said, “When at war, you don’t really know who’s going to win or who’s going to lose. You cannot engineer a victory but perhaps you can engineer out some failures.”
If you cannot engineer in success and you can engineer out failure, then you can receive every piece of bad feedback for things that don’t work or for things that you can do differently. This is how I think of it and it helps me listen to feedback without taking it personally as somebody attacking me. This person is trying to help me improve my product, my service or myself. They are helping me engineer out some of my failures.” Even if I don’t agree 100% with what he says and even if I don’t like it, I don’t care. He has something to tell me that may help me engineer out one other parameter of failure. I need that piece of information whether I like that guy or not. Whether I agree or it makes me mad or not, I want to hear it. This is something that I learned in the Army. If you’re going to win a war, you need to engineer out all possible parameters of failure.
That’s pure Nassim Taleb. That’s what he calls via negativa.
I didn’t know that.
It’s the Latin phrase for what you just said. I finished reading Antifragile, which I loved. By the way, Taleb is saying that failed entrepreneurs should be given the same respect in society as fallen soldiers because of the value they bring the society from failure. I didn’t read Fooled by Randomness, but I read another one called Skin in the Game, which is also a fantastic book. The engineering out failure should be part of our freshman seminar.
I’m all about the mindset. There’s a cognitive bias and it’s called the self-serving bias. It works like this, when things go properly, we take credit for it. When things go poorly, we blame. It sounds funny and we all think, “I don’t do that but everybody else does it,” because it’s much easier to recognize the errors of judgment in others than it is in ourselves, which is another bias in itself.
The point that you’re making is that when we get offended by feedback, we miss the value. There’s so much value in that negative feedback and we tend to reject it. We tend to say, “They don’t know what they’re talking about,” or we make some excuse and we explain it away. That’s such an important point of your story.
There’s another aspect of this that I want to ask you about because you said to me in a conversation we had. You talked to me about how insecurity was an advantage like you never believed you 100% had the solution. What you’re telling me now is you still don’t assume that you’ve got it all right. Many people characterize the entrepreneur as this big, bold, fearless, charger with a “Screw it, let’s do it” kind of attitude. That can be useful but at the right point. It’s like that stubborn switch we were talking about. The bold switch needs to turn on and off.
If you already feel that you’re a winner, why will you try more? What will you try next? If you feel that you’re a winner, what’s left to do? You’re a winner. If you feel like a winner, what’s next to win?
You stop learning.
Yes. It’s not just stopping to learn, you stop looking for stuff to take. You have it all.
Let’s talk about that.
You stop looking for opportunities. You’ve won them all.
That’s it. You stop looking for opportunities. I think of a mindset like this as an iceberg. On the very surface, up on top, what you can see, that’s what we would call observable behavior or artifacts, to use your language. Just beneath the surface is our explicit knowledge. It says what we know that we know and what we say that we value, but our mindset is the deepest part of the iceberg. It’s our deeply held beliefs and tacit assumptions. Our deeply held taken for granted values that we’re not even aware of. That’s what drives what shows up on the surface.
What’s on the surface is much less the result of your explicit knowledge than it is your deeply held beliefs and assumptions. I do this training in universities around the world and educators say to me, “You’re so well-read. How do you find the time to read so much?” I’m always puzzled by the question like, “Why aren’t you doing it?” I think of the question differently like, “Why are you so incurious?” If I had to stop right now and summarize this conversation, what you’re talking about is humility and curiosity. It’s a superpower and we all think the Donald Trumps of this world are the big strong men that have it. It’s crazy.
Perhaps we can add also a strange urge to do and build stuff. It’s curiosity and an urge to fix.
Let me offer a slightly different perspective. That urge to build stuff is innate in all humans. It’s not like some birds have an urge to build a nest and other ones don’t.
Even our mothers are building stuff every day. Cooking a meal for your family. Even cooking fulfills the urge to create something. Something so humble every day like cooking is fulfilling this urge to create, to make stuff and fix a meal.
That goes back to what I was saying about what the entrepreneur is. They are an organism striving towards self-actualization like an organism in a petri dish. We’re searching for the intersection between our own natural interests and ability and the needs of our fellow humans. When we find that intersection, we become optimally engaged in life. We’re always learning, experimenting, cooperating and coordinating.
Your story speaks so powerfully to all of those elements. Let’s go up to 35,000 feet. Another way of thinking about this is that for most of us, a job in the government or a corporation is not an environment within which we can self-actualize. We are an acorn with the capability of becoming a mighty oak. Yet, we’re in a flowerpot and the growth is just going to be limited based on environmental availability, environmental stimulation, and situational factors.
You’re going to business plan competitions and you’re starting to get feedback. You’re being very strategic about understanding it from the museum perspective and from the travel industry perspective. You’re not just going there for a beauty contest. You’re not randomly looking for validation, you’re looking for very specific validation. Tell me what is it you do with this? Where are you going from there?
All those competitions helped us reshape parts of our canvas, parts of our business model and they gave publicity as well. We had some customers coming in, and this is how we got our first customers from the tourist industry as well. We got some tour operators saying that, “We saw that you were awarded for building content from museums. Can we build content for travelers as well if we work together?” We said, “Yes, we can do that.” This is how we discovered the other customer segments that were the operators and travelers. This is how our company scaled up. This is how it worked for us. We used every bad feedback from those competitions to improve something. We used every publicity and article we got to get more customers. That story continues. More customers, more feedback, good and bad, more synergies, and more points to improve, and then more customers. It’s an ongoing journey of discovery.
It’s almost like a microcosm of evolution. The selection is happening in real-time.
I’ve been reading a book. I don’t remember by whom it was. It talked about companies that have been surviving and flourishing since the 1880s. Big companies like Johnson & Johnson or 3M, the company that’s been selling tapes and other stuff. The point of that book was that those companies that have been surviving for 200 and more years are the ones that were continuously looking for ways to improve or to build.
That book talked about companies not growing up because they invented a great service or a great product, but because they had built a mechanism that is actively listening to the market and is producing one innovative product after the other. All products at some point get outdated. People change and the market is changing. You have to build new stuff or you have to rebrand it or change the packaging, but you continuously need to change and adapt. This book was describing what you are saying now that it’s not enough to find a great idea but you need to be in the discovery mode if you want to build, not a startup that will go away, but a business that will be there for some years. At least for as long as you live.
I’m going to go back to the conversation we had before, how does the assumption of stability get us into trouble? That’s what you’re saying here. The key to long-term survival is humility and curiosity. It’s like you said, “They built a mechanism that is constantly learning.” It’s so easy to fall into the trap of like, “This is the way it is. I’m the knower of the way it is. I’m the gatekeeper to the way it is.” That’s what Dr. George Land meant when he said, “Nothing fails like success.”
There’s an interesting book, it’s the opposite of the book you described in some ways, but it’s a book written by Jared Diamond. I forgot if he’s a biologist or what his practice is. Most people know him as the author of Guns, Germs, and Steel. He wrote a fantastic book in 2009 called Collapse. He studied civilizations that thrived over the long term versus civilizations that collapsed. He said, “The values to which people cling most stubbornly under inappropriate conditions are those values that were previously the source of their greatest triumphs.”
We develop these success formulas that work. We then get busy replicating and refining those formulas, and then we cling to them. We fail to recognize when the environment changes. We’re still clinging to this formula that has now become so deeply embedded in our psyche that we don’t even recognize it as a formula. Taleb talks about this, “How is it that we had 40 or 50 years of commercial air travel before we figured out to put wheels on a suitcase? We all walk through the airports holding and carrying our luggage. We paid people to put our luggage on a cart with wheels on it.”
I didn’t know that.
Everybody looked around and said, “This is the way it is.” This is what I mean when I say the deeply held beliefs. They’re so deeply ingrained you don’t even though they’re there. You just accept it as normal. Your story is so interesting to me. The idea is growing, it’s catching on, you went about this very methodically. From a perspective of humility and curiosity, we’re never really buying into our ideas. The ideas are always nascent and evolving. Talk to me about investors. There are three founders here. How are you guys living? Are you trying to raise money? Most entrepreneurship and startup things in colleges and universities are like, “Go raise money.” I think that’s a waste of time for the vast majority.
We received the preseed funding in 2018, and then a follow-on investment in 2019 by the same VC in Greece.
You launched in 2012.
We met in 2012. We launched the company in 2014 that we had our first revenues. From October 2012 until October 2014, there was no company. Just a team of founders working on the idea and doing the discovery with clients. In 2014, we launched the company. Up until 2018, we were considered as the black sheep in the startup ecosystem in Athens, Greece because we were not going to investors. We would meet them at events and competitions but we wouldn’t go and ask for money.
For some time, we’ve been considered snub people who didn’t like investors. We love investors. We love our investors as well but we had to prove to ourselves first and then to others that behind Clio Muse there’s a machine that can generate revenues on its own, and then we can negotiate and look for money to drag this to the next level. It was easier for us being a software company. There are companies that are building hardware and they need funds to establish a company or to file for a patent or to build an MVP. For us it was different.
What you described, I see it every day for software startups as well. For years, we didn’t go to investors. We would meet and speak with them. We will try to understand and get knowledge for the market, for customers, how investors think, and how we can make Clio an attractive investment for them, but we didn’t go and ask for money. I’ve been considered a snub myself because we’re hot as a startup. We still are because we had many successes coming over and clients and museums.
They would put us on a stage with investors in the audience and we would not ask for money. Whereas other startups would ask for money. We’ve been considered small-minded that we thought that we can do it without investors. We knew that we needed investors but we were waiting until the timing was right. In October 2018, we had built a sustainable business around building tours for museums without realizing they had taught us how to use cultural content, and build great products and great audio tours.
In 2018, we started selling our tours through global online tour agencies like GetYourGuide, Booking.com, Expedia, Lonely Planet, TripAdvisor, Klook, all those big players. We ran an experiment while we were still building tours for museums. We combined the audio tours with the skip-the-line tickets that travelers are looking for. We had to block out the dates so that travelers couldn’t book more tours because back then we didn’t have automation to serve those bookings. We had to do it ourselves. The founders did the bookings ourselves.
We took those results and we went to a VC that we liked. A VC that we saw wasn’t greedy enough. It was investing in education as well. It was investing in nice ideas. They were not just about the profit. We approached them with Clio Muse as a sustainable company and doing projects for culture, with a spin of activity of offering audio tours and skip the line tickets as a nice upselling strategy for online tour operators. We got the deal that we were dreaming of with little effort.
That is unbelievable. There’s so much there. There’s so much to unpack in what you said, Yiannis.
They gave us the money so that we run the experiment for Greece and do that with the audio tours, not as an experiment, but as a separate business unit. We did that and it went amazingly well. In 2019, we replicated this model with tours and day tickets in Italy. We multiplied our revenues by ten times. At the end of 2019, we got a follow-up investment from them to do the same for Spain and Turkey.
In the first two months of 2020, we had a 200% increase in our bookings from the year that we had multiplied our revenues by ten times. We’ve seen gross revenues of $730,000 in 2019. 2020 was looking amazing but then COVID happened. We’ve done our exploring the market. We have adapted pretty well. We have released a new product, which is Virtual Tours. That’s another story of how we are making it through COVID with museums and tour operators side-by-side. I wanted to say where the money were we used for and the result that they brought.
You’ve articulated some things that I’ve been saying for a long time. There’s way too much emphasis on investment in early-stage companies. People go to business plan competitions hoping somebody is going to fund their dream. In a lot of ways, what I see is people look at an investor like, “We’re going to hit the easy button.”
I use this phrase a lot, “People think about a business plan competition as a beauty contest.” You’re looking for love in all the wrong places. Just because an investor thinks you have a good idea, it still doesn’t mean you have a good idea. It’s not until other humans are buying your product or service that you know you have a good idea. You have evidence. That’s one part of it. Another part of it is that you give away your power. If you’re early on, you’ve got an idea, and you haven’t validated it too much. Should you be lucky enough to get an investor at that point, you’re probably going to get a haircut. The imbalance of power is too great.
At the end of the day, what are we looking for? Are we looking for some money to go on vacation or are we looking for something that will be building money for every summer for the rest of our life? Are we looking for money that will come once, twice or thrice from investors? Are we looking to create something that will give us money every time we need it, every summer to go on vacation?
By that, there is only a bunch of stuff that we can do in the 8, 10, 12 or 24 hours that somebody may work in the day. Where should we invest more effort? Getting that one-off money or getting to understand the customer’s needs so that he gives us his money every week or every day? You can’t do everything. You have to focus. Where will you focus? Where is the big money? Not with the investors.
You give away too much if you go too soon. Perhaps, the worst thing is not that you give away too much, the worst thing is that you don’t get the information you need. You consume yourself and your team following up big money, but shouldn’t you be consuming yourself with trying to understand your customers and build a product for them? What’s your mission or a vision as a startup, to get money for investors, to solve this problem or to give and offer something?
Back to my glacier analogy, your behavior reveals your beliefs. Your behavior reveals your true values or your deeply held assumptions. You’re right, if trying to get rich in the short-term, good for you. That comment leads to another aspect of this that I don’t hear a lot of people talking about. That is again, back to nature, what happens when you try to inject steroids into a little chicken? The chicken becomes neurotic. It gets big very fast but it’s a little bit nuts and the meat doesn’t taste good. That’s one way of looking at it.
I forgot where I heard this but it’s not my own thinking, “Every once in a while, someone walks out into the desert and sticks of toothpicks in the sand and a gusher of oil comes out. The culture of that company is going to be different from the culture of a company that had to fight like hell to get to profitable.”
Everything in the entrepreneur conversation goes back to nature. When a butterfly is trying to free itself from the cocoon, if you enable that butterfly, it’s going to die. It needs the struggle and the humility to figure it out. That’s the most important point because now, you’ve got a culture within your organization. If the money went away, you’ll figure out how to survive and adapt.
I’ve had entrepreneurs actually tell me they got easy money early on and they understood it hurt them. It made it worse because it now allows you to focus on the wrong things. Now, it allows you to go all-in prematurely. It allows you to go buy a fancy office space, new computers, and lava lamps, and you still don’t know what the hell is going on.
Yes, unfortunately. We came close to having one of the best people in travel. I can’t say more but we were talking about closing a good deal. He was an investor and he wanted to privately invest in Clio Muse and give us $1 million, which was too much. We came up with a plan with Andreas and Daphne, how we would use that money, how we would open many markets at the same time. That deal didn’t go well. The conversation stopped at some point because he understood that we are not ready yet to open up that much. We still speak with this person. He’s a great guy. He’s been reaching out to us during the COVID era to see how we are. I guess that means that he’s still interested and he still sees something. What he saw back then which we didn’t is that we were not mature for such a big investment. Thank God, he didn’t give us $1 million because we would have burned it. We wouldn’t have used it wisely.
I’m tempted to do this when I lecture. Everything you know about entrepreneurship is wrong. Part of what drives me is that I lectured at colleges and universities all over the world. The way they teach entrepreneurship is pretty much divorced from the reality of what entrepreneurs are actually doing. They’re not writing business plans. They’re not going out and trying to get investors to fund their ideas right out of the gate. They’re not doing in-depth, formalized market research. They’re behaving like organisms. They are micro-experimenting. This is a learning feedback loop. I’ve come to believe that non-entrepreneurial behavior is learned.
It’s a fancy way of looking at entrepreneurship and what is mostly promoted. I don’t feel that it works. It doesn’t work. For some unicorn startups, it works but it’s not what it is.
There’s visibility versus representation issue. These unicorn startups, $1 billion in revenue in five years or less, make headlines. Daniel Kahneman called this an availability heuristic. It’s another cognitive bias. What you see is all there is. This frames your brain around what is an entrepreneur. The thing I want to wind down with here is what your story drives home for me is something I’ve been saying to educators.
Let’s start with this conversation that human beings are just like every other mammal. They have the innate desire and the capability to learn everything they need to learn to adapt and thrive in their environment. Let’s just start from there. A little bear had to sit in a chair all day and have an older bear lecturing the bear on how to catch a salmon, but you never hear of these examples in the university.
I see evidence of this in my work every day, and these conversations I’m having with you, it’s a prime example. Yes, you have some university education, but how much of that university education can you attribute? It’s hard to say but most of your learning did not occur there as it relates to your startup. The learning came from disassembling the boat that your parents got you for your birthday.
In university, perhaps I learned the methodology of observing stuff or the methodology of how to build something, but not the knowledge to build or the procedure of building. This is what I go for university, how to observe, design the process of building, how to handle overworking or understand yourself, and when you need a break. I learned the processes in university.
Yiannis, I want to be respectful of your time. This has been a fantastic interview. I’m happy that you’re willing to share your story with the world. There’s so much in this story. Yours is the great startup story if I’ve ever heard.
Thank you, Gary.
I’m so happy. How do people visit your website?
Any last little thoughts, advice or lessons learned from your journey thus far?
I don’t think I’m wise enough to share advice but lessons learned. I would say a short example. We had some interns from the US working in Greece and taking summer classes in Greece. When COVID broke out, those guys had to return. I sent a letter to their university asking them whether they would allow those students to continue their internship with us virtually or remotely. I explained to those teachers that I didn’t care about the deliverables because I have my own stuff. We can do what we do. I wanted our interns and those young students to feel that even in a pandemic, a disease cannot stop them from creating or doing something in their CV. I wanted to give them the opportunity to see that nothing can stop you. If you want to do something, nothing can stop you.
We got to leave it right there. That’s beautiful, Yiannis. Thank you so much for taking time out of your life, your day, and your work to share with the world. It’s been an honor and a pleasure to speak with you.
Thanks for having me, Gary. I took about a whole page of notes while we’re talking with some terms I had never heard before and some nice books to keep me company.
We’ll talk soon. Bye.
- Clio Muse Tours
- Frans de Waal – TED Talk
- Competing Against Luck
- Lonely Planet
About Yiannis Nikolopoulos
Yiannis Nikolopoulos is the Co-Founder and CTO of Clio Muse PC. Since launching, Clio Muse has successfully hosted and curated over 300 tours in 11 countries while partnering with the Athens International Airport, Athens Biennale, Art-Athina, Municipality of Athens, American School of Classical Studies, Embassies (Netherlands & Germany), and the National Bank of Greece. We have been awarded over 10 times globally for the re-use of cultural content and our business model and mentioned in major newspapers like USA Today and the New York Times. In 2019, we managed to grow 10 times and serve 50K travelers while getting 5-star reviews on GetYourGuide, TripAdvisor, Expedia, etc.